More than the other members of the group of French composers known as Les Six, Georges Auric made his mark as a composer of incidental and dramatic music.
His early encounter with ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev resulted in commissions for a number of dance scores. Among them were the slightly acerbic, mock-Romantic confections Les Fâcheux (1924) and Les Matelots (1925). The bulk of his ballet work, for Diaghilev and others, was produced between 1924 and 1934, and then between 1949 and 1952. Auric was also an early specialist in music for movies, a pursuit that occupied him primarily between his two ballet phases. His first film score was for Jean Cocteau's notorious 1930 Surrealist opus Le Sang d'un poète, and his score for the 1932 film A nous la liberté also gained currency as a symphonic suite. Film fanciers will have certainly encountered Auric's scores for the 1949-1950 Cocteau creations Les parents terribles and Orphée. And his Moulin Rouge, music for the popular 1952 film about Toulouse-Lautrec, even produced a pop hit, "Where Is Your Heart?"
Born in 1899, Auric began his studies at the Montpellier Conservatory, then went on to the Paris Conservatory and the Schola Cantorum, where he studied with d'Indy and Roussel. By the time he was 16, he had written Gaspard et Zoé, music for a magic lantern show, as well as some 300 songs and piano pieces; at 18 came the ballet Les noces de Gamache. He turned to comic opera at 20, with La Reine de coeur, a work he later destroyed. As part of the disillusioned young generation that survived World War I, he joined the anti-Romantic movement that was forming around Satie and Cocteau. The ideal was the new, the innovative, the urban, the American (in the rather limited and romanticized French understanding of America), and Satie's concept of music as something that should produce "auditory pleasure without demanding disproportionate attention from the listener." Auric found himself lounging around Satie in the company of five other young composers: Poulenc, Milhaud, Honegger, Durey, and Tailleferre. The group was initially called "Les nouveaux jeunes"; in 1920, critic Henri Collet dubbed them Les Six, although each member followed a largely independent aesthetic path. Overall, there is much musical irony in Auric's works, in which popular tunes are combined with advanced harmony. Because his music is most easily described by what it is not -- not as lighthearted and tender as Poulenc's, not as dour as Honegger's, not as exuberant with polyrhythmy and polytonality as Milhaud's -- Auric, like Durey and Tailleferre, never gained the popularity and respect of his three more famous compatriots. Nevertheless, as critic Boris de Schloezer remarked in 1926, Auric's conscious, self-ironic efforts to create the impression of superficiality, may conceal a profound musical impulse. In fact, in 1930, the year he composed the score for Le sang de poète, Auric wrote his Sonata for piano in F, a serious, lyrically expressive work that may seem at odds with the composer's public image. In his later years, Auric assumed a number of administrative responsibilities. From 1962 to 1968, he was the general administrator of the Opéra and Opéra Comique in Paris. This was right in the middle of the his tenure, from 1954 to 1977, as president of the French Union of Composers and Authors. He also wrote music criticism for Marianne, Paris-Soir, and Nouvelles Littéraires. Auric died in 1983.